Athletics: McColgan's triumph of mind over medicine: Britain's former world 10,000 metres champion is on the mend against all odds. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
LIZ McCOLGAN revealed yesterday that two medical experts had told her she would never run again following operations on her knee which she underwent either side of last Christmas.

Characteristically, McColgan refused to accept the verdict and plans to run the 10,000 metres at both the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games this August.

The former world 10,000m champion, who was speaking at the launch of a new entry scheme for the London Marathon, has had a long and painful road since she ran her last major race last May, over five kilometres in Aberdeen.

That event, which came soon after she had finished third in last year's London Marathon, saw her well beaten by her Scottish rival Yvonne Murray and already suffering from the back problem which has subsequently caused her a series of physical problems.

McColgan believes her troubles were exacerbated by advice to wear orthotic inserts in her shoes to help alleviate the back pain. She soon developed a problem in her knee which forced her to stop running altogether for nine weeks. After two operations on the knee in this country, the second of them to clear scar tissue, she visited the United States, where two different surgeons advised her that she should quit.

'When I was told, it didn't really register,' she said. 'I just ignored it and went on with what I was doing.' Two years ago advice from her husband and coach, Peter, about cutting back on training was largely ignored, and McColgan subsequently discovered that she was suffering from severe anaemia.

On that occasion, she made changes to her diet and training. This time, with what she now knows to be a tear in a medial tendon, she turned to Gerard Hartmann, an Irishman based in Gainesville, Florida, where the McColgans used to own an apartment. Hartmann, a self-styled physical therapist who worked primarily through massage, was recommended by Ireland's world indoor 1500m champion, Frank O'Mara. 'Without Gerard, I wouldn't be running today,' McColgan said.

The warnings came as a shock to McColgan and her husband, who has now resumed responsibility for coaching her following a link-up with the agent and coach Kim McDonald that never got off the ground.

'One year she's doing great and the next year you are told she might never run again,' Peter McColgan said. 'You might expect it if she had been knocked over by a car, or even if she had over-trained. But it was through no fault of her own. That's the part we found hard to believe.

'When you plan to take a break from running, as Liz did when she was pregnant, you can enjoy it and take your mind of athletics a little. But when it is forced upon you in this way there is far more stress involved. It has dragged on, because she is still not 100 per cent fit.'

McColgan is currently running 95 miles a week, 'with a bit of pain'. A low-key 10km road race in Forfar two weeks ago, which she won in the relatively undistinguished time of just over 34 minutes, has been her only competitive venture in the intervening time.

There have been no tears from McColgan but the events of the last 12 months have inevitably had an effect upon her as a person. 'When you get success you can get to a certain plateau where you tend to sit back and take things a little bit easy. This has opened my eyes a lot. It has a taken a lot, searching to find the people who can help me.'

McColgan's plans are fluid, save for the 10,000m double, where she contemplates running twice in a week. And she intends to be back for next year's London Marathon.

Had it ever occurred to her that the people who told her she was finished were right? 'No, no,' she said. 'Life is what you want out of it. When I quit I will be the person who says it, not somebody else.'

A new method of entering the London Marathon has been introduced, with forms for the 1995 event being available in more than 1,000 sports shops around the country from the Monday after this year's race. Information hotline: 0925 417744.